David Uosikkinen is Philadelphia Rock and Roll.
He burst onto the city and national music scenes as the powerful drummer for Philly’s most successful rock export, The Hooters. Growing up a Philly kid, he’s always remembered his rock roots and is prominently back on the local scene with his new project In the Pocket, Essential Songs of Philadelphia. The project features classic Philly rockers uniting to cover gems from the city’s musical history.
We recently had a chance to spend a bit of time with the generous and effervescent musician.
Cretin: Growing up in the Philadelphia area, how did you get your first exposure to the Philadelphia rock music scene?
Uosikkinen: There were some local TV shows, one from Willow Grove Park where they used to show bands that played there. I saw Sweet Stavin Chain. Woody’s Truck Shop, Todd Rundgren was in that band. The American Dream, they were another great band. Todd Rundgren had the band Nazz and In the Pocket covered “Open My Eyes.” There were great, great Philly bands. Then in the Seventies, you had bands like Edison Electric, Good God, Mandrake Memorial, bands like that. They had great musicians coming out of this city and really cool bands that I paid attention to.
Cretin: I’ve only heard of a few of those bands. Your knowledge of the city’s rock history is impressive.
Uosikkinen: Well, if you get a chance look them up. With the internet, you can probably learn about a lot of them. There’s some great stuff on Nazz are out there and there’s probably stuff about Mandrake Memorial and of course, there’s Richie and Charlie’s band The Soul Survivors; they had that great hit with “Expressway,” Woody’s Truck Stop, The American Dream… The American Dream had a big influence on me. I loved the song “I Ain’t Searchin.” They had a song “You Can’t Get To Heaven on the Frankford El,” which became the bridge on The Hooters “Beat Up Guitar.”
Cretin: That’s a cool tribute.
Uosikkinen : We took that from a line that Nick Jameson (from The American Dream) wrote. They had a big influence on Eric Bazilian and me. Nick is still a very good friend today, and he actually produced The Hooters’ Five by Five EP.
Cretin: So when you guys started playing together in the Eighties, you adopted a bit of a ska flavor. Where did that come from?
Uosikkinen: Well the ska influence really came from what was happening with the second wave of the British Invasion. The Clash were integrating their punk thing with reggae and dubbed out kind of music and I really dug that. Selector, The Specials, and The Police were doing that kind of stuff. And, Rob Hyman spent a lot of time in Jamaica, and we dug Bob Marley. So we incorporated those kind of vibes and rhythms into the music we were writing at that time.
Cretin: Were there any Philly influences from that era?
Uosikkinen: There was a reggae band out of Philly called House of Assembly that I paid attention to. For us in the late 70’s, the one band that broke out of Philly and got signed to a record deal, who I admired were The A’s. That was Richard Bush and Rick DiFonzo. They got signed to Arista and they were kind of breaking out, if you will. They didn’t have mainstream success, but to me, they were freakin rock stars.
Cretin: And now, Richard sings with you on this project.
Uosikkinen: Yeah, Richard sings every show with In The Pocket, and he sang on the first single “All My Monday’s” which was a song we did with Youth Camp, a band led by Joey Wilson, who I first saw on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert back in 1980. He was another one who got signed, he was working on trying to break out. It never really happened for Joey as a performer, but he wrote some great songs, including one that Madonna performed.
Cretin: When I first heard that your band was going to cover “Change Reaction,” my first thought was that Richard Bush would be a great choice to take the vocals.
Uosikkinen: The guy that sang on this version of Change Reaction is a Philly guy, Ben Arnold. The line-up I have on “Change Reaction” is Ben Arnold singing, he’s actually touring in Europe right now, but will be back for our show in March; Steve Butler who played in a band called Smash Palace and Quincy, he plays guitar; John Lilly who plays in The Hooters also played in Robert Hazard and the Heroes plays guitar; and Bill Whitman, who is not a Philadelphia guy, but he’s engineered a lot of bands out of Philly he played bass; Rob Hyman plays keyboards and of course, I played drums.
Cretin: Looking forward to hearing this single. I loved the original; in fact I have the 45 in my jukebox today.
Uosikkinen: Well, we took some liberties with it. I loved the eighties, but this is 2012. I really wanted to deliver a version of the Robert Hazard song with a 2012 twist. You will definitely recognize the song, but we changed the key and kind of took a few liberties with a couple of rhythmic lines. I’m really pleased with it and Bill Eib who managed Robert Hazard was really pleased. He thought Robert would really have loved it.
Cretin: When Robert played cover songs he always put his own touch on them, too.
Uosikkenin: Yeah, exactly. Robert was an amazing guy. He was really, really good.
Cretin: So looking back at the early eighties, was it a competition between The Hooters, Robert Hazard, The A’s and Beru Revue, or was it more of a brotherhood.
Uosikkinen: Back in the eighties, I think it was somewhat competitive. We were all friends and we were all very cordial, but I think everybody was trying to get ahead. To break out of Philadelphia, so close to New York City, it was a challenge. We always had a challenge of building a fan base, and it was almost as if some of the hard core fans picked sides back then.
Cretin: For sure.
Uosikkinen: But, I think it was a healthy competitive thing. Interestingly enough, from Hazard’s band, Rob Miller joined The Hooters and then John (Lilley) joined to play guitar; and they both played with Hazard. And, we were all such big fans of The A’s. They were playing a lot of gigs as part of that pop-punk thing which we all dug. Their audience was exciting; the audience was as great to watch as the band.
Cretin: And, now we get a chance to see all of those guys on the same stage.
Uosikkinen: They’ve all become good friends to me. That was the thing for me about doing In The Pocket – I had an opportunity to work with them in this capacity, and I thought “why not do a project where I can record songs of bands I really dug?” I mean who makes the rules for these kinds of things? I called Richard and he was like “Yeah, I like to sing.” I called Greg Davis from Beru Revue he said “Yeah, I love to play guitar.” Everyone I’ve asked to do it has come around to do it. Eric (Bazilian) who lives in Sweden these days; when he comes to town, he plays. It’s been a great experience for me because everybody I’ve asked has wanted to do it.
Cretin: I wish I was still in that area. These shows sound great.
Uosikkinen: The shows are awesome. If you go t my Facebook page, there’s a quick little clip of Tommy Conwell and TJ (Tindall of Edison Electric) playing “Work Out.” It’s rockin’ man. It’s TJ, Tommy and Greg Davis playing, it’s ripping.
Cretin: Greg Davis is a great guitarist.
Uosikkinen: He’s a monster guitarist. He can play anything. He’s incredible. And, he’s a nice guy, too.
Cretin: You moved to Southern California for awhile. What drew you back to Philly?
Uosikkinen: I lived there for 20 years, and as life would have it… My marriage was dissolving and I was spending a lot of time in Philadelphia and I met somebody and that relationship got better and better, and she was in Philadelphia, so here I am.
Cretin: So it was love, and I thought you were going to say that you missed the old Philly music scene?
Uosikkinen: I did. That was part of it. It was comfortable for me to come back to Philadelphia because a lot of my friends are here. I had a relationship, as well and that made things a little easier.
Cretin: Can you share the connection with Settlement Music School? Where did that originate?
Uosikkinen: The connection there came from Dallyn Davey. I knew about Settlement Music School, but she’s the one who told me to check out what they were doing. In today’s economy, schools and programs that support the Arts are one of the first things to get cut. And we liked the things they do that allow people to study music, without requiring auditions, they help with money to get to the school, and they introduce people to the arts. We bring attention to the school and donate a portion of the proceeds and we think it’s an amazing organization.
Cretin: What is Dallyn’s role?
Uosikkinen: Dallyn is one of my partners in organizing the project, and she is my girlfriend, by the way. Also, I should mention Steve Acito who does all the documentaries and videos for In The Pocket. Steve has a big part in the whole visual side of In The Pocket, and Dallyn basically manages the project. We brainstorm and all three of us help implement all the pieces. So far, it’s been working really well. It’s been good.
Cretin: So, back to “Change Reaction,” why that Hazard song for this release.
Uosikkinen: “Change Reaction” was always one that really popped for me. I loved the riff. When we were tracking it I realized it sounded like an old song by The Outsiders, “Time Won’t Let Me” that I always dug that. It had this cool riff. To me, it was really this clever pop song that Hazard had wrote. He had a lot of great songs, but when I narrowed it down to song that I wanted to do, that is the one I had the most connection with.
Cretin: So, what”s next for In The Pocket?
Uosikkinen: I’m not sure what will be next. We had some great punk bands out of Philly: The Stickmen, The Dead Milkmen; and we had the whole Philly International thing, I was a big fan of the song “Back Stabbers;” and I don’t have any chicks on the project. It’s not necessarily a song that a girl sang in the beginning, but maybe the next record has a girl singing a song that a guy sang, and I always wanted to do an A’s song, too. Also, I’m a big fan of Tommy Conwell. I don’t know what will be next, but their definitely in my queue.
Cretin: Any parting thoughts on In The Pocket?
Uosikkinen: We’ve got our show on March 13th (at World Cafe Live). If people go to SongsInThePocket.org, there’s five songs, they’re 99 cents each. Download them and check out the videos. And, I’m just thrilled to keep the project going, and I appreciate all of the support.
Check back with us in a few weeks for our quick and casual RARA’s six-pack with David, or follow us on Twiiter to make sure you don’t miss it:
Rock On – Cretin